Michaela here. At Devon's request, I kept a travel log of what happened and what we did on our vacation to England. I hope you have some time, because I wrote a lot.
My pants' back-pocket sparkles set off the security scanner and got me an enhanced screening at the Phoenix airport, meaning a pat-down by a female TSA person.
After being deplaned at our connection in Detroit, we had to run for the A30 gate about half a mile away because they called final boarding for London just as we walked into the airport. (This was when our early morning jogging sessions came in handy.)
I watched Moanna and Finding Dory on the flight. Both were really good, and as a fiction writer I enjoyed seeing how various parts of the stories worked together. Finding Dory felt really poignant to me, and I loved the message of how short term memory loss had forced Dory to compensate by staying unsinkably optimistic and improvising and always looking for another way to do what had to be done.
I really liked the message of Moanna about how knowing and remembering who you are can give you strength. That's a good message for those who have a strong, positive self identity. Yet I wonder how many teens can draw from that? As a teen, I didn't feel like I knew who I was yet.
6am. Crashed at Travelodge hotel in London. I thought I could do a short nap and just go on to our sightseeing itinerary, but 3 hours of sleep wasn't enough, so we ended up sleeping longer. Devon scouted out the train station while I zonked. After I woke up, we went on a 4-mile walk (round trip) to a train station to get week-long passes, but their ticket office was closed. (That's the thing about England you have to watch out for--a lot of stuff closes at 5 or 5:30 so you have to plan your evenings wisely.)
We walked through neighborhoods with lots of Indian and Muslim and Polish people. Devon said 20 years back the neighborhood had Africans and Indians.
We missed the Kew Gardens because we were too tired and our schedule was already packed.
Wednesday May 10th
The hotel wouldn't let us store our bags there (probably since we'd checked out), so we had to take an Uber ride back to the airport and store them there for a fee. (Yeah, I guess our expectations about using the hotel to hold our luggage was a bit cheeky.)
We had troubles getting the Uber ride; people kept dropping our request. Finally got one. This is our first time using Uber, so it is a bit stressful to learn it as we are depending on it. (I keep worrying I will push the wrong button and either cost us money or make drivers mad.)
Went to airport, dropped off bags, took underground to Madam Tussaud's.
This place had a green copper-looking dome, and it looked much smaller on the outside than it was on the inside. The first display was Hollywood movie stars and celebrities. Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne were the only golden-age stars shown; everyone else was current. I recognized most of the current ones, though I was a bit fuzzy on Kim Kardashian. Some I did not know at all.
This made me wonder about what happened to all the previous wax figures made of earlier people. Further research was needed, and we found out from the ever-helpful Wikipedia that Madame Tussauds's chooses a few figures each year to be removed to their warehouse storage or melted down. They are always interested in how much "staying power" someone has in the public eye. This also makes me curious about who are the names of people, say, 50 years ago who were made into wax figures but removed. I'd like to know and look them up and find out more about them.
So who did I see there who would be older, but still recognizable? Elvis, the Beatles, Ghandi, Einstein...
Donald Trump had a roped off section all to himself and there were quite a few people interested in getting their picture with him. I also noticed that there were lots of people who got pretty cozy with the wax figures as they were having their pictures taken with them. Selfie city, I tell ya.
We took a bus to partway to the London museum. (We’re still getting familiarized with using the buses.) On our walk the rest of the way, someone liked my scarf and told me so. (I wore my red, yellow, green, and blue striped scarf.)
We went on a guided tour of a few parts of the British Museum, which basically has a lot of artifacts England stole from other countries a 100-200 years ago. We saw a cup with St. Agnes's story on it, from which I decided I need to look up the stories of the saints because they can be really lurid. We saw lots of Viking treasure (silver). We couldn't spend much time here because we got there near closing time.
I had very tired feet by this time, and my backpack felt really heavy because I hadn't been smart enough to stash my laptop with my luggage when we put it in storage. I won't make that mistake again.
The people in London seem very fit. Far fewer overweight people and it makes the populace seem very young, even with salt-and-pepper hair. But maybe it is because they tend to be in a big hurry to catch the bus or the subway. Lots of jogging as though they knew they were about to miss it.
We had troubles getting an Uber ride at the airport because my phone was dying, but we figured out I could plug it into Devon's computer to keep it going. (Note: Uber sucks battery power like crazy, so once you are sitting in the Uber ride, kill the Uber app on your phone, otherwise you'll be at 0% by 5pm.)
We met our 1st Airbnb host. Saruman seemed nice enough. His apartment was colorful, smallish, with a piano right in the entry way. He gave us a room on the third floor. He also let us use a little space in the fridge so we could get and store some food to pack lunches for our trips.
We went for late dinner at a fish-and-chip place. Sat next to a girl from New Jersey who struck up a conversation. She told us about nice places to eat in the neighborhood.
Went home and crashed.
I dreamt I lived in England and was trying to get a job. It was a very vivid dream.
Woke at 6am!
It was a long bus ride to St. Paul's cathedral. Outside it there was this monument that looked kind of interesting, so I went over to look at it. It turned out to be an old drinking fountain. On the front it had a metal frieze of Moses smiting the rock to give the children of Israel water, and on the back was the tap you turned on and drank from. I think it is rather cool that they wanted the people to remember that Bible story when they got a drink.
At the entrance to the cathedral they gave us each an electronic tour guide with earphones. It has a touch screen with different info about different sections, very easy to navigate. It also had little spiritual thoughts you could listen to if you wanted, which I thought was a nice touch.
Using cameras inside the cathedral was not allowed, so I couldn't get any pictures. (Later when some other places forbade cameras, I drew things instead, but I hadn’t thought of that at this stage.)
Vast interior. Cross-shaped floor plan with very high ceilings. Lots of ornamentation everywhere. 164 steps up to the Whispering Gallery with little narrow passages, spiral steps, white walls, little square windows. Organ playing nice classical music. In the walls around the dome there were paintings of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles on a lower level than later church fathers. I was a little annoyed at that.
Devon and I tried out the Whispering Gallery up in the dome, but couldn't get it to work. Later when looking at the little video guides, the trick became clear. We'd been doing it wrong. It wasn't a satellite dish sound wave reflection thing, but a circumferential travel thing. (I guess we just knew too much...)
There was a lot to see at the cathedral. I think we were there for 5 hours. We watched Eucharist celebrated. It was interesting, and at the same time I was happy to know I sat next to a real priesthood holder.
St Paul's Crypt. They like to put memorial statues and different things to commemorate famous people here. Or they might make a big metal plaque and stick it in the floor or on the wall somewhere. It kind of gave me a weird feeling walking on those plaques, like I was walking on a dead person. Yeah, I know, when you walk through a graveyard you do that too, but in graveyards it isn’t like you’re walking on the tombstones. That’s what it feels like when walking on the plaques. I think my favorite memorials were the marble friezes, but that’s me.
Some of the epitaphs were interesting. I ran across a memorial of Charles James Napier, who was described as a “prescient general”. Intriguing. I didn't know who he was, so I had to look him up on Wikipedia later. He warned his superiors about how badly Indians were being treated in the subcontinent. When the uprisings began, they realized he'd been right. He was good at quelling uprisings. He said the thing to do was hit them hard, then be very kind afterwards, and the worst men could be won by this. (It is just as the Lord said to Joseph Smith in D&C 121 about reproving with sharpness then showing an increase in love.)
We ate cross buns in the crypt. I like cross buns. They taste kind of like cinnamon rolls, but without the frosting or the spiraled dough, and they add in raisins. Tasty stuff.
We walked along the Thames to Parliament. All along the way there were various memorials to various generals and even a big obelisk that had been taken from Egypt. But I suppose every empire has to display nifty things from other civilizations. The Romans did it with Greek stuff. The Holy Roman Empire did it with the old Roman stuff.
Saw St James Park, Trafalgar Square.
We saw the National Gallery, though only for an hour or two. (Thankfully it is free.) The part we saw was all Renaissance paintings--about a million versions of Madonna with child, then scripture scenes set in a Renaissance setting, some stories of martyred saints, and very little else. I wonder if that was all that was painted at the time or if that stuff was what people wanted to get rid of so the museum has it.
We then scoped out the bus location for a Jack the Ripper/Sherlock Holmes tour, but we never went on it; we did something else.
When we were in London walking around, I got so I was completely confused about which way to look while crossing the street to keep from getting run over. At those times I was glad the city had written on the pavement, " look left" or "look right" as the case warranted, otherwise there would be a smear of Michaela on the pavement somewhere or splattered across a bus front and destroying the lovely paint.
Pedestrian walkways are in a different place in Britain than in America. They don't have them right in the corner; they offset them down the road about twenty feet so your walk will be about 40 feet longer than it would be otherwise for each street you cross. Depending on how you look at it, this is either a great opportunity to increase your exercise, or it is a horrendous case of forced inefficiency perpetrated on the rule-abiding people in Britain. One extra point: when you walk across, you don't go straight across like in America; you must stop in the middle at an island, and walk about 10 paces with traffic before you may continue across because they have put railings in your way and the traffic on the second half isn't stopped yet, so you have to wait for the green walk signal again. Many people don't wait. They simply take advantage of any break in traffic.
We went and saw Hampton court, which was a home of Henry VIII with Ann Boleyn. Also William and Mary lived there and had Boroque additions put in. Hampton Court had audio tours explaining each room and section. (St. Paul's tour device was better, though, because we could choose what we found most interesting in the room to learn about.)
I thought it was fascinating the great hall in the Tudor section had four great tapestries depicting important scenes from the life of Abraham. Henry VIII evidently identified strongly with Abraham and his effort to have a son.
Notable things were a giant painting of a man that turned out to be life-sized. Henry VIII had hired giants as guards. He also had a fountain made to run with wine instead of water.
At William and Mary’s dining room, they had a big banquet table with all these fantastic creatures made by folding white cloth napkins! There was a rabbit, a rearing horse, a big fish, a duck, a snake… Evidently this was a German art they brought over to England. In a way, it reminded me of ice sculptures, except napkins will hold their shape better than ice in a warm room.
In the guardroom, there were all these weapons arranged high on the walls in beautiful symmetrical patterns. Old hand pistols arranged tightly in concentric circles, surrounded by daggers, rifles, helmets, and even leather ammunition pouches. And evidently every 20 years or so they have to take it all down and do restoration work on it all. They take the pistols and rifles apart piece by piece and wax them and oil them. And they mend any leather that is starting to decay. Then they put it all back for another 20 years.
I think I learned a lot about how royalty operated. The king usually had two bedrooms. There was the real bedroom where he slept and there was the fancy bedroom he'd go to and publicly "wake up and get dressed in." Sometimes he would eat in front of the public in order to prove he was healthy and strong. (This is public relations back then.) They had to have the best of everything to increase their prestige and because guests expected to be pampered when visiting.
While touring we ran into some BYU people. I could tell because one of the men was wearing a Y hat. We said "Go Cougars!" And they knew who we were.
I had some carrots ambush my digestive system. That's all I'm going to say about that.
Bathroom sinks in England have two handles, not one. One of these days I'll figure out which way to turn them off and get it right the first try.
In the evening getting ready for bed I lost a contact, and it dried up by the time I found it again the next morning. (What is it with me, travel, and things happening to my contacts?) Happily, after an hour soaking in solution, my contact was okay again.
We walked over the London bridge. It's not very special-looking; the Tower bridge is the fancy one everyone has the mental picture of.
We didn't buy the walking food tour, but went to one of the same places--Borough market. Lots of food stalls. We wanted to try lots of stuff, so Devon and I adopted the strategy of buying one of whatever we were interested in and splitting it so we’d have plenty of room for other things.
We had a Ranger pot pie with ham hocks. Sausage roll, smoked spicy sausage. "Wyfe of bath" cheese. Cherry and almond tart.
The market got really crowded around 11:30am, so we were glad we had come starting at 11am. Ultimately we saved L120 by going on our own instead of the tour.
After that, we decided to walk along the Thames, see the Tower Bridge and go toward the Tower of London. We noticed the Traitors Gate that opened from the Tower of London onto the Thames. Famous prisoners would be rowed through it by boat. It's certainly a very picturesque name.
Standing in the empty amphitheater called “The Scoop” located along Queens Walk, one just gets the urge to perform SOMETHING. So I did. I pretended to do ballet, and supplemented that with some "Walk-like-an-Egyptian," ending with more ballet and a dramatic bow. Devon filmed it with my iPhone. Showings of my triumphant public debut are available upon request.
We took a boat ride on the Thames to Greenwich, which was maybe 3-5 miles down. We got to see the place where the Mayflower put off from. (I think that might have been when the Mayflower went from London to Europe because I think the pilgrims had moved from England to Europe before they decided to sail to the new world.)
At Greenwich we saw the Cutty Sark, which was the fastest tea clipper before steamships took over the tea trade. The Cutty Sark could make the run from China to England in 73 days. Which was a big record it held for some years.
I hear you asking, “What is a cutty sark?” A cutty sark is a lowland Scottish term for a woman’s short shift, which was worn under the clothes. Yes, someone named a ship after woman’s underwear. It makes me think someone wanted an excuse to say it as much as possible in polite company.
We toured the Cutty Sark and they had a few neat things as part of the display. 1) There was a computerized game where you could try to pilot a boat across the world from China to England using the currents and winds, and the computer would time your route and tell you at the end if you beat the Cutty Sark’s record or not. You got to use a little ship’s wheel and everything. That was an absorbing game, and all the adults really got into it. (I got 83 days, which isn’t too shabby compared to the 73 days of the record.) 2) There was a knot-tying activity where you learned how to tie sailor knots. I learned a figure eight knot. I was happy to find I had already learned the bowline in association with cub scouts. (See? Cub scouts helps with sailing!) 3) There was a big collection of ship’s figureheads with interesting stories about them. The Cutty Sark’s figurehead was a woman triumphantly holding up a horse’s tail above her head. There’s a story that goes along with it, from Robert Burn’s poem “Tam O-Shanter.” Look it up on Wikipedia.
Also at Greenwich was the Royal Observatory and the prime meridian that separates the eastern hemisphere from the western. Devon really wanted to see this before our river-ride back, so we raced up the hill to the Royal Observatory.
On the way back, I danced briefly to some buskers' music and it got a few other people comfortable with dancing too.
Before the river-ride back, we lined up in the wrong line for a different boat company, and only found that out when the staff looked at our tickets. Happily, we managed to get on the right boat 5 minutes before it left.
Hiked to our bus stops, got food for Sunday. (We didn’t want to have to go shopping or go out to eat on the Sabbath.)
Also we explored Church street in Stoke Newington where our Airbnb place was and went to a tea house for dinner, but did not have tea. We had “bangers and mash” with a scotch egg. Bangers are sausage. Don't ask me where the "bangers" name comes from; maybe English sausages have been historically explosive? [Grin] “Mash” is mashed potatoes. A scotch egg is a hardboiled egg inside sausage. It's pretty good, though not particularly flavorful. But it is filling.
I also decided arugula tastes really nice. I must have more of it in my salads in the future.
Getting oriented for our travel to church was unexpectedly error-ridden and wild-goose-chase-ish. First we went to the wrong bus station, then when we arrived at the right one I realized I had forgotten my ride card, so I had to go back and get it. Then at the Vauxhall train station we went to the wrong platform, then found the right platform was closed because that line was closed and the alternate route was from the platform we'd gone to first. Yeesh! The adventure of public transportation.
At the Staines ward, Devon met a lady he taught as a missionary and baptized. Yayyy! Her name is Diana Wright. She was happy to report she was still going strong in the church.
I happened to mention that I had ancestors that came from Kirkconnell, Scotland, and Diana corrected my pronunciation of the place name. She said they said it as “K'cordy,” which I found very surprising. I had to write it down when we talked to her later because I forgot it, it was so different. I still wonder how they get that pronunciation out of those letters!
By the way, I wondered if I would start speaking with a British accent while here. I haven't because I think I would feel a little odd mimicking them, but I noticed the tonality creeping into my talk. And I heard British accent in my head constantly, which is a bit weird.
I volunteered to play the organ for sacrament meeting. One of the counselors was the usual organ player, and he graciously allowed me to do it. It meant he didn’t have to dash back and forth between the bishopric seating and the organ during the meeting like he usually does.
I had some troubles setting the stops, but the counselor gave me some tips. He said the organ was loud, and he was right. I was told later by other members that the counselor usually liked to play it really loud.
I had a few snafus as I was playing. I forgot to play the softer swell keyboard for rest hymn so my rendition of "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" was extra loud and triumphant, but the whole congregation sang with gusto, so it was alright. The members from Ghana really threw everything into it. I got compliments afterward on my playing, which made me laugh a little.
Also, the organ bench happened to have a seat cushion on it that was loose, and it was difficult for me to scoot across it in my corderoy dress without making the cushion go wildly skee-wampus. Scootch-adjust. Scootch-adjust. If I put my feet down it would make the organ pedals honk in the most irreverent way, so I had to position myself the best I could.
The youth had just barely had a visit to the Paris temple open house, and the conducting counselor (who had gone along) said he was impressed that in Paris where religion is visible as an ancient relic, he was grateful to know and see that our religion is a living thing.
Sunday school. The lesson was on tithing and fast offerings, I realized paying tithing blesses us with temples three different ways—1) by providing funds to build them, then 2) qualifying us for the recommend to enter, then 3) by preparing us for the covenant of sacrifice taken inside. I also realized I need to watch for and record in my journal when the Lord blesses me after my fast.
They asked me to play the piano in Relief Society, and I obliged.
We had a really good Relief Society lesson about testimony from a staunch convert who described her conversion as having happened in the first 10 minutes as she heard the missionaries, but it scared her and she hid afterwards because she realized she would have to change and tell her friends and family. (Obviously she got over that.) She found that for her real friends, her new religion wasn't a problem, and for those who were bothered by her conversion, they slowly drifted out of her life by themselves. But the gospel changed her from a shrinking violet into so much more. She was a member for two weeks before she realized that in this church she would be asked do things, like pray in front of people or teach lessons or whatever. She said when she talks or teaches it really takes something out of her and it is a real sacrifice. (My personal thought was she made it look easy and she seemed like a natural at it.) She said there were some dark times in her life when all she could do was come to church, and hearing the testimonies of other members strengthened her. She also observed there are days when she feels like she simply can't go on anymore, but the next day something would happen that would give her the strength to keep going. (I know that feeling.)
There was a guy in Sunday school who could quote scripture verbatim and it was clear he feasted on the scriptures. There were Africans who verbally amen-ed each others' comments. There were Americans and English and Ghanans and Spanish.
After church we went back to the Stoke Newington Airbnb house, changed, and went for a walk in a nearby park. The park had scads of people. Jogging, skating, biking, food festivaling, playing on playground, playing catch, merry-go-rounding. We got rained out for the first time since arriving in England. The weather had been pretty nice most of the week with only drizzles here and there.
On the walk Devon asked me if I thought I could live here and I said I thought I could. Then I laughed, remembering my dream, and told him about it. The last time we had this kind of discussion it was to observe that I thought I could live in Phoenix, and then a few years later we moved there. Devon said he didn't know how we would end up in England, except for his job, and that doesn't even have anything in London anyway.
We called home through Devon's iPad to wish my mom a happy Mother's Day. Dad didn't know we were on a trip to England. Sounded like the first he'd heard of it. Heard cool news about my brother Stuart who is going to be interning at a federal judge's office.
I played piano for our host family, doing my repertoire of memorized pieces. They seemed to like it. While playing I found their piano had fewer keys on the bottom end than the usual piano.
The hot water wasn't working, so Devon had to suffer through a cold shower. I got around it by just washing my hair. Then our host found out about the boiler on the fritz and felt bad. He probably thought we were going to ding him for it on the Airbnb reviews. But we’re not. It just happened. He’s not to blame.
We got an Uber ride to the airport to pick up our rental car. The driver was listening to music on the radio with lyrics that went, "You're in love with a psycho, you're in love with a psycho, and there's nothing you can do about it..." Yeesh! If you ask me, that music is a little psycho itself.
Our ride route took us over streets that were so narrow only one car could go down at once. And yet people still manage two-way driving by pulling into spaces between cars to let oncoming traffic by. Everyone yields for the big trucks. No one wants to tangle with THEM.
Airport. Trying to find where to get our rental car. First we thought it would be out by the buses. Then a policeman told us to go up to the Arrivals area where the rental car desk was. The desk had no one there, but had a sign that told us to go back down to the bus parking lot where we were before. Devon took us almost out to the underground, but it didn't look right. Finally found the shuttle buses to the rental car place. Yaaaay! Found it!
As we validated our rental agreement, the rental car guy taught us how to say 'initial' (initziallen) in German and we taught him how to say 'outstanding' in German. And he teaches us "magnifique." And there is much hilarity on these points and the marvels of learning things in different languages.
Rental car! Little gray Hundai i10 hatchback that barely holds our luggage. Devon says he’s is worried about driving in the UK, but you wouldn't know it to watch him.
It feels very peculiar sitting on the left side front where the driver's side should be and not driving. I keep trying to look in the mirrors and they aren't oriented for me, but toward Devon.
Good thing we have a sat nav (“sat nav” is England’s term for GPS. Hat tip to Sara Rogers for that bit of info.)
We got to Windsor okay, but got stuck in a line of cars that wouldn’t move for any apparent reason, until.... a parade went by! All is explained. (We had serious discussion about what to do until the reason was revealed. Devon gets props for deciding to stay put instead of passing everyone as I wanted to do. I would have gotten us in trouble.)
Windsor castle can't be photographed inside, but no one looks askance at you if you try to draw things. Hence I made a few hasty sketches on my paper pad of the grand staircase and the king's bed.
The Waterloo room had a bunch of portraits of military heroes and diplomats who helped either win the Napoleonic wars or broker peace afterwards. Many names I didn't recognize, but I bet there are interesting stories involved, so I'm going to have to do research on them.
Royals and their painters seemed to like pictures of bare-breasted women. "Oh, the beauty of the human form," you might say. Rubbish. I notice no one gets interested in man's form.
One room had a table made completely of silver. Evidently silver furniture pieces used to be all the rage in noble households as a show of wealth, but they are particularly rare now because they were so easily convertible back into specie.
In the queen's audience room, we figured out that the tapestries show the story of Queen Esther even though the tour devices said nothing about them. This made us feel smart and biblically literate.
The Hall of St. George has all these knights' shields on the ceiling and names and numbers and dates of being knighted engraved on wainscoting at waist level. If they disgrace themselves, their shields are painted white as a warning of their shame. Japan's emperor Hirohito was knighted in 1929. Wasn't he the guy who brought Japan into WWII on the Axis side?
Saw a film of Queen Elizabeth processing into the hall slowly. Probably because Windsor is so big everyone gets tired walking from place to place. [wink]
We saw the changing of the guard. Lots of stamping, marching, beating the gun, changing it to the other shoulder. The guards marched by, and some of the teenage French boys who were there sightseeing thought it would be fun to march behind them in line, but after a few stamping paces, they got the stink-eye from the last soldier in line--just a little turn of the head with a curled lip--and the teens stopped immediately.
Devon saw a gardener working and wondered how a person got to be gardener at Windsor. I surmised it was an inherited position. Then we both speculated that if the gardeners are chastised for planting the wrong plants, their wheelbarrow might be painted white and hung on the ceiling of the garden shed as a sign of shame to all.
St George's Chapel on the grounds of Windsor. When the queen wants to walk on the chapel roof, they will put a fancy railing there and call it the queen's walkway. This actually happened. The queen can't even sneak around anywhere without it being memorialized.
I noticed a plaque in the floor about the remains of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII, Charles I, and a baby of Queen Anne's being buried there. They like being buried in the floor of churches, it seems. And all together in the same rectangular man-sized space, all nice and cozy-like. These royals are an extra friendly and space-efficient bunch when dead, even if they aren't while living.
There was some nice organ playing from a little electric practice organ and a guy that looked barely old enough to be graduated from college. I looked at the music and it seemed fairly simple, though pretty. Except it folded in some weird way. I wanted to ask the guy if I could have a go at it, but I figured it would be distracting and put him on the spot, so I refrained.
After seeing the cathedrals and churches, it seems to me that even though they are very grand, they also seem visually cold. I think our LDS temples seem warmer.
Devon and I watched a guard outside going through his stamping paces up and down a walk, then get mobbed by tourists taking pictures next to him. While standing at attention, all he moved was his eyes, and he might look at you, or he might not. When pictures were taken of someone posing with him, sometimes he would look far right (towards them) which gave a rather skeptical or curious appearance and looked a little humorous in a subtle way.
On the road again! 70mph speed limit and people still drive faster. The culture of speeding is alive in Britain, it seems.
Thank goodness for sat nav! Street signs are hard to see here. They put them on buildings most of the time, except for when they don't, and then you're in trouble without GPS.
We're driving the right speed and the sat nav keeps dinging speed warnings at us. It gets a bit dictatorial. Even if the limit is 70, when we go over 50, it will ding at us to tell us we're in a mobile safety camera zone. If we are about 1 mph over the limit it will ding again to remind us we're in a mobile safety camera zone. Then, when we are under the limit by 1 mph, it will ding yet again to remind us (as if we have forgotten) that we are in the mobile safety camera zone. If it was particularly festive, it would ding twice in 10 seconds.) After a while we carefully ignored the dings.
The countryside looks green and rolling just like NW Illinois as we drive, except we're driving on the wrong side...oh, excuse me--left side of the road.
Devon had a bit of a time driving, though he definitely did better than I would have. Still, he had to cope with a manual transmission, driving on the left, turn signals that were not going off when he wanted them to, and tweaking the wipers at the right time in the rain. And when he had to do all this at a roundabout, things got a little chaotic. We did not cause any accidents. We only got honked at once. It was when he had moments of trouble he'd start drifting left to the curb. Then I would gesture that he had to move over and he would get a little frustrated because he was dealing with the other stuff.
Highway driving in the UK is peculiar when you do it first. You enter and exit from the left, and the speedy drivers pass on the right.
We drove out to Bradford-on-Avon (near Bath and Bristol) where our next Airbnb place was. It is a cute little cottage decorated in white, sand, and gray inside, run by a blond widow with a big heart and a big smile and lots of skill at interior design. She showed us into a cute little room with paned windows and as we settled in, the nearby church started a rolling peal of their bells, which was fun to hear.
We walked around the area to look for a laundry to wash our clothes, but in the morning our hostess took pity on us and let us use her washer and drying rack. (She didn't have a dryer) Our morning was taken up with monitoring the washer's progress.
Devon turned on the TV and found some Indian soap operas, not in English. In one scene an Indian woman swept around a hairpin turn in her car, and it looked like her license plate came off (no idea how), but she got out (dramatic angle) looked with horror at the bent plate lying in the road, and I said, pretending to be her, "Oh no! My plate has fallen off! Oh no! It is my exboyfriend's car that was stolen! Oh no! Now everyone will discover the murder I've committed!" And then the woman picked up the plate (devastated look) read the number, and discovered (dramatic pause) BLOOD on the corner. I totally called it! I laughed so hard. We switched to a different channel after that.
Our hostess fed us breakfast in the nicest way, which we didn't expect. We drove to the local grocery store to get food for our trip today later and we had some streets that weren't wide enough for two cars to do at the same time. At these times, the one that gets there first goes, then the others wait, accumulating a line of cars, then that line goes, and the other side waits. Devon scraped the mirror on my side of the car against the wall while trying not to hit oncoming traffic.
Nice winding drive to Puzzlewood Forest, briefly through Wales, narrow hedgerow roads. Rainy mystique.
Okay, REALLY narrow roads at 60mph is a bit of a nail-biting experience. The signs recommend driving in the middle except to pass, so the veering back to our side got nerve-wracking. Devon was white-knuckling the drive too.
Devon and I speculated that some of the narrow country roads with hedges right up next to the line are probably trimmed by cars that go through and scrape against the branches and leaves. Or one good semi truck (or “lorry” if you prefer) barreling through would widen it nicely for another 6 months.
Puzzlewood Forest! (Thank you, Marie Russell, for suggesting this place!!) So photo-worthy you could just puke. Trees with moss growing up their trunks. Rock that had worn away into deep moss-and-fern-covered gullies. Fences made out of twisted branches like some medieval park. Outcroppings covered in moss and fern and mistletoe and flowers.
We got to see this in the rain when most everyone else would rather stay inside. We felt like solitary visitors and wandered at leisure. The paths snaked up steps, across dales, down between dark overhangs, with little passageways beckoning us to discover their secrets as though we were the first to see them. The rain pattered down through the trees, and the green leaves both shaded and transmitted light through like living emerald stained glass. A magical place. It doesn't surprise me that at least four TV shows have used this location for filming.
We drove back to the cottage bnb. Devon did better on the narrow roads, and when we got to the wide ones they felt positively palatial. So much space! Nevertheless, we now do not drive anywhere without serious prayers for our journey that we’ll drive safely.
Our hostess suggested we could find good dinner down in the village. We went to The Grape Leaf at her recommendation.
Devon told me that in Thailand they take pictures of the food and show them to people so they can see what they ate. He said we should do that this with our food, but we didn't remember until it was all gone. Sorry guys, you don't get to see what we ate. It's in our bellies. So I have to describe it instead.
We ordered a collection of appetizers and a collection of flatbread starters. We could have avoided the flatbread starters, though, because two of the three were on the appetizer plate and the other had anchovies on it. It was our first time having anchovies, and we will avoid them in the future. Too fishy tasting for me, and Devon found them too salty. But at least it was a new experience. In some ways it reminded me of smelt (a fish) from Lake Michigan, but smelt was roasted and this was not.
So we had something with sausage and chutney with pickled little onions, something with spiced cheeseballs that were fried, a salad with quinoa, barley tomatoes and cucumbers, a flatbread with feta and sweet potatoes, a flatbread with caramelized bacon and onions, and salad greens with bean croquettes. The flatbread was hard to cut.
Today we’re going to the Dr Who Experience. Weather is rainy and foggy.
Our destination is in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. That's another capital we've been to and not our own. Someday we're going to have to fix that.
When we entered Wales, I announced the fact to Devon in my best imitation of whale-song. Devon thought I was weird. Hey, after one has seen Disney’s Finding Dory, one couldn’t do anything else. (Whale-song becomes highly important to the plot of that movie.)
Highway signs in Wales have English and Welsh on them. Nobody knows how they get the pronunciation out of those letters. It's like they think the letters make different sounds. They must be related to the people who pronounce Kirkconnel as K’cordy.
Dr Who Experience!
It seems the place does not have its own parking lot, so we had to park on the street. (This certainly isn't Disneyworld. The Mouse would never have tolerated making people park on the street...) The parking meter would only allow us to reserve 1 hour of time, so we anticipate being illegally parked for a bit. (Update: Devon figured out how to extend the time.)
As we came up to the building, there was a film crew with camera on the side of the road zooming in on some guys in an ambulance without worry about random strangers walking by to the Dr Who building. I suppose they are either very low budget, grabbing footage where and when they can, or they are very tolerant of watchers. Or maybe watchers fit in the story?
The Dr. Who waiting area inside is small enough that it makes me wonder how many visitors this place gets. They have scheduled tours, then afterwards a wander-as-you-will museum display of props and costumes.
First they had a sort of interactive tour as if you were in a Dr Who episode. We had these neat glowing crystals that they gave us to hang around our necks that were to keep us safe (probably to ensure no one got left behind in the dark scary-looking maze of rooms). The challenge was to find the three other crystals to stick in the Tardis to reverse the polarity and make the space octopi let go of the Tardis and stop trying to get in to kill the doctor and us. We got to use joysticks to "navigate" the Tardis around space obstacles, and there was a 3D movie, and we saw daleks come alive and weeping angels. At each stop the doctor appeared on screen, continually surprised that we weren't dead yet. I have a feeling that if the Doctor hadn't talked so fast, I might have found him more amusing. Still, it was interesting to see. A young couple had brought their 3year old and babe-in-arms. Getting 'em young, I suppose.
Afterwards was the museum--costumes, monsters, and props. There was an documentary about the woman who composed the music for the early Dr. Who shows. She created the sounds electronically instead of using conventional instruments, but she wasn’t very appreciated or well-compensated. After she died, they discovered a room full of all the recordings of her music and discovered she had created electronic and technica before that was even a thing. They put it all together and had a big dance party set to her music. Hopefully the woman could see that from heaven and felt more vindicated from that.
The museum had all the costumes for each different Doctor. They also had the costumes of the companions, which were pretty cool. They had a lot of the different types of monsters and aliens that are in the show. I got a picture of Devon staring at a weeping angel.
Devon overheard people pointing out which Tardis went with which series and what episodes various outfits were used in. They didn’t have to read the signs; they just knew. Clearly these are the diehard Whovians.
I got a book at the Dr. Who shop called “Wit, Wisdom, and Timey-Wimey Stuff” that had a lot of snappy quotations from the TV show in it. Very fun.
Hill Farm aka Benbow farm where lots of people were baptized by Wilford Woodruff.
We had a hard time getting there. When we got to the Hill Farm (the place John Benbow owned) we would have been confused about where to go, but when we arrived we met some members from Utah and England who'd been there and directed us to the right place. We got muddy walking down to the pond in the wrong field, then found the right way.
There was a special spirit there, which made our efforts worth it. It felt like it could be a temple site. Or maybe the Lord just blessed us for the time we sacrificed from our vacation to come. The feeling wasn't from the weather, which was rainy and chilly. It wasn't from the scenery, though that was pretty in its way. It was something you felt inside.
As we were on the way to the Gadfield chapel where early members met before Elder Woodfruff came, we didn't think we'd get to see the inside, but just as we got to the place the sat nav said, the person I'd left a message for earlier called back and gave us the last bit of directions to get there and get inside. It was perfect timing. If he had called any earlier, we wouldn't have understood his directions, and if he called any later we might have gotten frustrated and left. (Blessing!) He said he would send more info later from the locked potion of the building if we left our names and email address in the guest book. So we got there and we were looking around when a tour guide showed up with other visitors! So we got to see more after all!
There were lots of stories of the early saints who sacrificed so much to join the church and come to Zion in America. There was a book called something like "Twelve Sons of Israel" that had stories of 12 members from England who did great things. I loved how many of them were prolific writers.
We tried to be on time, but we had so much trouble taking wrong turns accidentally. It felt like the Lord wanted us to see those church history sites and made it happen for us. So it seems to me that this is a witness to me that the Lord will take a hand in our vacation plans that involve church history sites, and that He will provide little tender mercies to those who sacrifice to learn and experience those special places.
Devon found some Dorito Roulette potato chips at the grocery store. They have a little bit of spiciness to them, but every so often you get a chip that is REALLY spicy. Like almost Thai-chili-spicy.
Political discussion with our hostess. She asked us what we think of Donald Trump. We didn't vote for him, though we're Republican. We look a bit askance at him. She said the British prime minister who just got elected is a similarly puzzling choice for Britain. Evidently people aren't sure how she got elected either.
When Devon and I watched some British news it was rather curious how the situation with Trump and Russia was handled. According to the news, one moment Trump is colluding with Russia (which is still unproven, by the way; we must be fair), the next it seems he is torking them off. It makes me wonder whether it is possible to do both at the same time or whether the observer is putting a spin on it.
We watched some Russian media, which had a funny thing to point out about the US media. I'm going by memory here and paraphrasing, but this is how it went... "How to drive the US media crazy: 1) Talk to the Russians. 2) Exclude the US media. 3) Allow the Russians to take pictures. 4) Share those pictures."
We left the Bath area and Bradford-on-Avon, heading for Dover. Just as we leave, the weather turns beautiful and clear. Our hostess was sad about that for us, but I told her one sees a different side of a place in different weather. Plus we were prepared and the rain didn't stop us.
When using the sat nav in England, you live and die by the postcodes. Unlike the United States where you put in the full address, in England, every place has a seven-digit postcode of letters and numbers that can be put in the sat nav for it to find your route. I like this. Easy and convenient. But wo unto you if you input it wrong! And good luck if your online directions say "near ____ postcode" because you'll look around for a few minutes with puzzlement once you get there.
The sat nav sent us northwest for a bit when we wanted southeast, but it was just sending us to a highway. I got concerned because the sat nav does wacky things when I accidentally mash my fingers on it.. Then I have to push all kinds of buttons to try to get back to something I recognize, all while Devon asks me, "Do I turn here?"
Devon has finally figured out the seemingly odd behavior of the car's signal lights. When he wants to merge, he just flips the wand down and back up, and the car flashes the signal two extra times because it is programmed to anticipate he wants to shift lanes. But when Devon was first driving at the beginning of the week and changing his mind much more about what lane he wanted to be in, this extra signal flashing was very disconcerting and contributed to general frustration and disorientation.
As we drive the highways I notice half the semi trucks are soft-sided. I suppose they are loaded from the side instead of the end, either for speed or for lack of turn-around space. They certainly don't have much loading room for trucks, especially in the big cities.
We tried going thrift shopping in Dover, but the shops were too small to have much selection. The store fronts had maybe 30 of each size and type of clothing and that was it.
We wandered around and got to the beach, and then Devon realized he might get cold without a jacket, so we went back to the car. And then realized we should have paid for our parking first, so we owe Dover about 50 pence.
Then we stumbled across the Dover museum, which was free. So we went in.
The first floor was about the history of Romans inhabiting Dover. Hmmm. Romans fattened and ate doormice? Sounds like that's an unclean animal to me...
The second floor of the museum showed a display all about Dover's big pageant of 1908 in which they acted out various important events of British history. They hoped to make lots of money from tourism, worked for a year on fancy costumes, composed music as transitions between historical scenes, and ultimately finished with a financial loss of £2700. (This when the average yearly salary was £70.) Evidently this was all part of a craze for pageants between 1908 to 1914. Did WWI beat it out of people?
Lots of war history. Dover was called “Hellfire Corner” during WWII because it was the easiest in reach to German bombers. But it had lots of earlier war history too—WWI, Napoleonic, etc.
In another part of the museum was displayed part of a Bronze Age boat with unusual construction methods. Would you believe the boat builders tied boards together with wicker-like ropes even under the waterline and then filled the holes with beeswax? It's true! You wouldn't think it would float, but it did! But happily, boat tech moved on from that...
After our parking meter time ran out, we decided to hike around the cliffs of Dover. Useful note: After 5pm the park's pay station closes and entrance becomes free! The hike goes along the top of the white cliffs over Dover harbor and past for a mile. There was mist over the sea, so we didn't see France across the way, but it was a great view out over everything. There was this grand sense of vastness and space and mist over distant green bluffs that the camera just couldn't capture well enough for me.
I kept thinking it would be great to bring our cub scouts here for a hike, but then I would remember that we were in England and it would take a major miracle to get the money to fly 18 Cub Scouts and their leaders over to do something like that. Yeah, you can bet that's not in the budget. But the fact I was having that kind of thought tells you cub scouting is getting into my blood.
We walked by a chalky cliff wall where people had worked to carve their names in. We imagined all the schoolteachers of Dover setting the offenders to writing on the blackboard 200 times, "I will not write my name on the cliffs of Dover. I will not write my name on the cliffs of Dover..." They might be writing that out with Dover chalk, for all we know.
It started raining on our walk. We almost got to the point with the lighthouse, but decided it wouldn't do to get completely sopping, so we turned back. Looking over the ground we'd traveled, the mist made it look like we'd walked 4 miles instead of 3/4 a mile. The ground got muddy and my hiking boots brushed mud onto my khaki pants. Hmm. That's both pairs of pants dirty. Oh well, it's a sign I'm having fun, right? (When we got to our next Airbnb I was able to clear the mud off both pairs.)
Our Airbnb place in Folkstone near Dover was an old mansion that had been divided up into three separate flats. We were 5 minutes away from it when our hostess texted to tell us our room was ready. Great timing! We got there and nobody was there, but she texted us directions for where to find the key and where our room was and what we could use. Apparently this a very latch-key operation, but it worked.
No shower, but a nice bath. Stained glass roses in the entry windows. We couldn't figure out how to relock the door after getting in, but Devon figured it out the next day.
We decided to have a traditional English breakfast- bacon (like ham), eggs, baked beans, sausage, fried tomatoes, toast, and orange juice. Very stick-to-your-ribs.
Devon found a Salvation Army shop in Folkestone, and while there I found the sweetest red wool coat. It fit me perfectly and will replace my tan coat and look smashing. I'm very excited because I've been wanting a red coat for a long time. Best souvenir of England everrrrr! And only cost £3.50.
Weather forecast gave a 90% chance it would rain around noon, so we wore our rain gear. And then what does it do? It clears up! You can't win! You just have to be ready for anything.
First thing we looked at was the Roman lighthouse that was added to in the medieval period. Next to it was a church named St Mary's of Castro. A retired priest was playing through his repertoire of songs on the organ. I got cheeky and asked if he would let me play. He graciously agreed to. I played "Praise to the Man" which they'd think was "Scotland the Brave" and then I played "We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet."
Dover castle has a big outer curtain wall and then a pretty square-ish inner keep, which is pretty small comparatively. Evidently it was an old design, but Henry II was going for a power statement, not innovation. Because after people think you've had a famous churchman (Thomas a Becket) murdered, the best way to redeem your public image is to build a fancy castle keep, right? Ahem. Well, if it doesn't make sense to us, it made sense to Henry II. Maybe he thought it would make a nice way-stop for pilgrims on the way to Thomas a Becket's tomb, which had become a sort of tourist attraction of the day.
The inside castle had 4 levels-- (from bottom to top) servants and kitchens, guest chambers, great hall and gallery, and kings apartments, then the roof. There's a general square floor plan, but with little offshoot passages and little rooms that are delightful to explore. Some rooms have a sort of projection of costumed actors having period-type conversations with each other in which they snark a bit about their jobs and the royals. For instance, in the king's closet room (containing not just clothes, but large chests of silver coins), a voiceover of the purser made cynical observations about how it isn't war that wins castles but money.
The battlements give a great view of Dover harbor. The crenelations protect from the gusty wind, as I found.
Lunchtime. I bought a coconut macaroon as an excuse to eat our packed lunch in the warm cafeteria, and it (the macaroon) turned out to be fabulous. It started crisp and crumbled easily on the tongue and you're left with the chewy coconut goodness. And it was big--the size of a danish. Where have these been all my life?!
More castle stuff--All the gates and towers are named so they can tell them apart. Makes perfect sense. ("Sire, the French are attacking the tower and undermining the walls!" "Which tower?" "Uh... The one over there!" " Which one?" " That one!" "Blast it! There are two towers where your finger is pointing! Just call it the King's tower. If we survive this, I'll name the other tower after you!")
We explored the medieval tunnels of the spur fortifications. The spur looks rather odd, and not as dramatic as castle walls, but evidently it was effective.
We also saw the secret tunnels from the world wars. And I have to admit we sang the secret tunnel song from "Avatar the last Airbender" quite a bit. ("Secret tunnel...through the mountain...secret-secret-secret-secret-secret-YEAH!")
At the WWII gift shop I was intrigued by a book about food rationing, which I thumbed through. I didn't buy it, but I learned some interesting tidbits. Evidently the rationing of the war caused people to adapt by buying things as soon as they came available and then squirreling them away because they would be needed later. Even simple things were scarce--string and paper and such. So that created a cultural tendency to pack-rat-ism. So pack rat practices were a civilian survival strategy in long-term wartime conditions of scarcity. Also, the war office made it criminal to waste food or throw it away.
This whole trip my hair has been not just wavy, but crazy-wavy. That's what happens in all that English humidity. Also, I don't have my usual hair appliance to dry and style it simultaneously. However, I don't know if it would have done any good if I had it. The outward flip I despised in my youth is pretty much queen of my tresses these two weeks, but I'm a bit more tolerant of it now than I was at 14.
We had a traditional English dinner with Diane Wright (the lady Devon baptized on his mission) and her family and a very nice evening talk. They served Yorkshire pudding, so that was my first time for that.
Yorkshire pudding is kind of odd-looking to me, so I'll have to describe it. First, there is no pudding involved, in the American sense of pudding, so get that notion out of your head right now. It looks like a muffin when it is in a dish with others, but don't let that fool you. It has a hole in the middle, that makes a sort of cup out of it, and it has a crusty texture as you touch it. I poured gravy into it--I don't know if that is what is usually done--, and it soaked that up and became soft at the bottom, but still held its shape. I suppose it is the ancestor of the breadbowl, though smaller. It tasted pretty good. I would have it again.
We’re off to our last Airbnb place back in London around Staines, which happened to be within a very short walk from the chapel we went to church at last Sunday, and right across the street the train station. Somehow it feels like we've come full circle.
On the way, we went over streets that had parking markings that seemed to expect cars to park halfway onto the sidewalk. If they hadn't, no one could have space to drive even one lane down the street.
The last Airbnb place looked very regency--white, with columns around the entrance. This Airbnb gave us a full flat to ourselves, which is different from the other places we’ve been in which we were given a bedroom. The light green and flesh-toned color scheme of the living room is a bit of a revelation. I never would have thought that could look good, but it does. (Another color scheme I never would have thought would work is yellow and light pink. That's not here; I'm just remembering it out of association.)
Ran across a book at the Airbnb about kings and queens of England that gave a quick survey of who they were, what they did, how they affected things. It gave just enough to whet my appetite and now I'm going to have to look up more books about English royalty. But it'll probably be tricky to find them, since our American libraries care more about American politics, WWII and that stuff than Europe history.
At the rental car return they noticed we scraped our side mirror, but that's okay because we bought insurance with our rental. At the time of buying it I thought it would be a waste of money, but now I'm happy we got it.
Checking in for our flight online, the website said we should go to terminal 4, but our bus driver from the rental car place said our Delta carrier would be in terminal 3. He turned out to be right and we had a bit of a trek in consequence. Moral of that story is listen to the bus driver.
We're sitting the airport terminal, and Devon is trying to think of other British food experiences that he wants me to have, trying to figure out last-minute things for us to do. I told him I haven't had haggis yet. He looked chagrined, and I told him, "Oh, maybe we'll have to go to Scotland for that." Then I thought about it and said, "That would be the most expensive haggis ever."
Our flight attendant announced that "Captain Brilliant" was our pilot today from London Heathrow to Atlanta, Georgia. Captain Brilliant? Is that sarcasm? Should we be worried? [grin]
Random things you learn from airline movies--how to kill a chicken by wringing its neck. This was from a documentary on Mexico. The show hosts got to learn how it was done, and it was demonstrated for viewers. (Yes, a chicken lost its life as part of the creation of the documentary!) It is done as follows: 1) Take chicken by the neck, grasping firmly with both hands. 2) Mind the wings and the feet. 3) Swing chicken's body vigorously around a horizontal axis in a tight circle until the chicken's body disconnects from its head, which it will do in about 3-4 revolutions. Ta-daaaaaa!
Now, why do I find this fascinating? Errrrm...Basic farm survival. If I have to do this someday, I'll be prepared! Sure, I won’t know what to do with it afterward, but I can wring its neck, gosh-darnit!
We were supposed to fly into Atlanta, and there was rain there, so they had us in a holding pattern. Then they thought they would divert us to Chatinooga, Tennessee. I prayed about it, and maybe 15 minutes later they decided to land us in Atlanta after all. Tender mercy, I call it.
At Customs I was honest and mentioned I had brought an apple with me in my backpack. This landed us in an agricultural inspection line right behind the family from Costa Rica with 80 pounds of cheese in their suitcase. ("Hola! I bring much cultures to you! Many bacteria you never see before! We mix our queso with your queso and make big multi-cultural fiesta, eh?")
The fate of the apple...trashed. (Ooo, "The Fate of the Apple" sounds like it could be an intriguing book title.)
The ag inspector joked we would find our luggage shredded at the end of the conveyor belt. I was so tired by this time that for about 1 second I believed her about the shredding. Then I was like, “Naaaah, she’s fooling.” I must conclude that she has made that joke many times before and gets some jollies out of the momentary looks of chagrin that pass over people’s faces when they hear it. I suppose if I had her job I would be doing something similar.
Let the record show that by stopwatch I count the time between the plane arriving at the gate and our exiting the plane to be 8 minutes 24 seconds for a row 35 seat and an exit at row 15. I've never timed it before, so it is nice to know there is a reasonable time, even though it feels like forever.
Brother Epperson gave us a ride home in the nicest way. Unpacking and bed. At least it is Sunday tomorrow so we can rest up from our vacation!
Final note: It felt very weird to wake up the next day in our own house. It felt like we weren’t home, but were in another Airbnb house. Strangest sensation.
And that, folks, are our adventures in England!